BALTIMORE (AP) — D. Wayne Lukas sat atop his pony just after 6 a.m. and stared at Secret Oath while she got a bath following her first trip to the track at Pimlico Race Course.
“The whole time she was out there she never put her ears down — they were always up,” he said. “She might be the most alert one I’ve ever had.”
Lukas believes she could be one of the best fillies he has ever had. That belief and her winning the Kentucky Oaks in impressive fashion the day before the Derby inspired him to enter Secret Oath in the Preakness Stakes, where she could give the 86-year-old Hall of Fame trainer a record-tying seventh victory in the second jewel of the Triple Crown.
“She gives you reason every day to feel good,” Lukas said from his usual spot in the corner of the stakes barn at Pimlico, where he holds court every morning as horse racing's elder statesman. “The best is still in front of her.”
The best horse in the Derby isn't in the way, after the owner of Rich Strike decided not to run him in the Preakness after the 80-1 upset at Churchill Downs. To become the seventh filly to win the Preakness, Secret Oath will have to beat favorite and Derby runner-up Epicenter, which would put her in the company of the likes of 2009 champion Rachel Alexandra and Swiss Skydiver, who beat Authentic in this race in 2020.
Lukas knows all about fantastic female horses, having trained 15 who won the Eclipse Award for the top filly of the year. Winning Colors in 1988 became one of just three fillies to win the Kentucky Derby, and Secret Oath two weeks ago gave him a fifth victory in the Oaks.
She could have run in the Black-Eyed Susan Stakes on Friday, but Lukas was willing to roll the dice on Secret Oath being better than the colts this time after finishing third in the Arkansas Derby in April.
"She’ll catch them. Whether she will run by them, we’ll find out," said Lukas, who cited Secret Oath's turn of foot as her biggest asset. “She’s got that acceleration. She runs along with them. And when they ask her to move, she’s got a devastating kick. She breaks their hearts.”
Two-time Triple Crown-winning trainer and good friend Bob Baffert told Lukas that Secret Oath reminded him of Arrogate, who he considered the best horse of his career. Secret Oath is the daughter of Arrogate and glides more like him than Lukas' star fillies of decades past.
“She’s got more to do, but she’s got a chance to be as good as any of them,” Lukas said. “I don’t think that’s out of line. We’re talking about one that, she gets over the ground better than any of them I’ve had. Her efficiency: boy, she is a pretty mover.”
Secret Oath seemed to take to Pimlico as well as her trainer, who considers himself fortunate to have had so much success at the track beyond the Preakness. Natural talent could help her add to Lukas' list of accolades, but his training has a lot to do with her evolution.
“He’s a magician,” said retired jockey Donna Brothers, now an NBC Sports analyst. “He’s been doing it for a number of years, and he can continue to produce those sorts of results.”
He has gotten those results since 1980 when he won his first Preakness with Codex. After Codex beat Kentucky Derby-winning filly Genuine Risk in that race, Lukas doesn't see much poetic value in having a filly in Secret Oath who could get the job done 42 years later.
“Filly, colt, government mule — I don’t care,” he said. “I’m here to win the thing.”
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